Ambassador Rice: Good afternoon. Thank you all very much for coming.
Now, this is about as fun as my job gets. We’re here today to formally swear in our outstanding new Ambassador to the UN for Management and Reform, Joe Torsella—someone who’s not just a tremendous public servant and a gifted leader but also an old friend.
Let me start by welcoming Joe’s family who’re here with us today: his wonderful wife Carolyn; the kids, Grace, Joey, and Kelly—and his oldest son, Travis, who wasn’t able to join us today because he’s following the family tradition of public service and is currently doing Army Reserve duty—keeping Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, safe; Joe’s mother-in-law Marion Short, who came in from Minnesota, along with the other proud Minnesota in-laws; Joe’s sister Nicole; and finally Joe’s mother, Pat Torsella, who I imagine is about as proud as is humanly possible. And we also remember Joe’s late father, also named Joe—he passed away 16 years ago, but he would have absolutely loved this day. Joe gets the fancy title, but as we all know, the whole family serves. We appreciate your sacrifice and support, and I promise to give him back to you more or less intact.
Now, Joe and I go back almost 25 years now. We’re both tough-love people. And that’s why he’s such a perfect fit for the job of reforming the UN for the challenges of a new century. We can’t afford waste, inefficiency, or abuse anywhere in the UN system—not when we face such urgent new threats, not when we’ve made such serious investments. So President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and I turned to Joe for this job for one simple reason: he gets results. In the words of one of my most distinguished predecessors as UN Ambassador, former President George H.W. Bush, Joe will be an outstanding ambassador because of his “excellent people skills,” his “instant grasp of issues,” and his “knack for bringing together diverse groups of people.”
Joe has made a career out of bringing reform and accountability to large and complex organizations that hold the public trust. When he was Chairman of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, overseeing a system entrusted with billions in public funds, his leadership helped make it more transparent and open to the public. He built coalitions and overcame formidable opposition to pass a landmark accountability measure imposing new high-school graduation requirements—for the first time in a generation.
Joe held the management and reform portfolio as a Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia when the city was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Not anymore. Instead of giving up when labor negotiations were stalled, Joe insisted on creating a true public culture of accountability. He invested in productivity even as he overhauled bloated old systems, cleaned up abuse, spurred competition—and closed a $1.4 billion cumulative deficit without raising taxes. In fact, once we’re done with him, we’re planning to trade him to OMB.
And at the National Constitution Center, Joe’s leadership helped create a large, thriving, complicated institution that lives in the public domain. His work there amounted to one big 10-year exercise in public diplomacy—a place that truly expresses America’s founding values and our ongoing quest to perfect our union to thousands of visitors, from students to democracy activists to heads of state, reaching countries from Afghanistan and Brazil to Serbia and Tunisia. When Joe took over the Center, he inherited a $185 million project mired in public and financial turmoil. But under his leadership, it opened on time, on budget, and to bipartisan applause.
It’s not hard to see the common thread in this lifetime of experience. Joe is a reformer of public institutions. He shakes things up. He delivers. He builds the coalitions he needs. He breaks down the obstacles others can’t. He doesn’t take no for an answer. And above all, he insists that public institutions be run as a public trust.
And that’s what he’s already doing at the UN. We don’t just need an institution that lives within its means—though we do very much need that. We need a rejuvenated UN that works to save lives, keep the peace, seed development, and shore up American security by finding common solutions to the urgent problems of a new century.
Even for Joe, that’s a big job. But that’s why he’s here—to work with me and our whole team to lead the charge for serious and comprehensive reform. He’s here to protect whistleblowers, impose budget discipline, and promote transparency. He’s here to ensure the UN reduces bureaucracy, reaps savings, rewards talent, and retires underperformers. He’s here to demand a UN that’s more lean, nimble, and cost-effective. And he’s here to not let up—not one inch, not one iota—no matter how tough or frustrating the job.
Lasting and far-reaching reform will require American leadership, determination, and patience. It will require, in a word, Joe.
Thank you so much.
Remarks by Ambassador Torsella, U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform
Ambassador Torsella: Thank you, and welcome, to all of you. Thank you first of all to Ambassador Rice, not just for her kind remarks – some of which were even true – but also for her treasured friendship through the years. When I first met Susan twenty-five years ago, I knew that with her exceptional talents, she’d be a force of nature in American civic life. But I never imagined she would someday be a Cabinet officer swearing me in as an Ambassador.
It is a special blessing for me to have my path of service cross with hers in this extraordinary way. I am deeply grateful to her -- and to Secretary Clinton, President Obama, and the Senate – for the privilege of representing my country. I also want to thank all of you. You’re all here because, in one way or another, you’ve helped me travel this path in life—some of you as long ago as high school in Kingston, Pennsylvania, and others as recently as the past few weeks in Washington and New York. To my new colleagues in the State Department and this Administration, I am proud today to become, officially, part of your professional family. And I’m bursting with pride, always, for my first family: my big, beautiful, loving, loud, wonderful family.
As Susan said, my mom is here from Berwick, Carolyn, our kids, and my sister from Philadelphia, my mother in-law and nephew from Minnesota, my sister-in-law and nieces from Cleveland… and the spirits of my father and Carolyn’s father are here too, I’m sure of it, along with our immigrant grandparents from Ireland, Eastern Europe, and Italy. It’s our own little United Nations, except with much less chance of consensus… and, thanks to the Italians in the mix, much better food.
Thank you for bearing all the sacrifices of this assignment, while I get all the joys of it. This new role would have been less of a sacrifice for my Philadelphia-based family if things had turned out differently in 1946. It’s a little-known fact that when the United Nations was deciding where to locate its permanent headquarters, Philadelphia was very nearly chosen. The supporters of New York and San Francisco were deadlocked, and that let Philadelphia’s bid to be the UN’s new home go from long-shot to likely almost overnight. By early December 1946, Philadelphia led the voting and almost got the deal done. But at the very last moment, over 24 hours on December 11th… the Rockefellers swooped in with an offer to buy six square blocks along the East River. And the United Nations went to Manhattan. So, as I’ve explained to my new colleagues at the UN in New York: 65 years later, I’m Philadelphia’s revenge.
I love that story, but I love the back story even more. The reason Philadelphia came so close wasn’t the quality of its restaurants and nightlife in the 1940s, nor was it geographic compromise. The papers from those days are filled with talk about the resonance between the UN Charter and Philadelphia’s history – the city named for brotherly love, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
There was even talk that were the UN to come to Philadelphia, it should be located on what we now call Independence Mall, so delegates could draw inspiration from that heritage. What ended up being built on Independence Mall, of course, was not the UN but the National Constitution Center. So it is not a long journey at all for me to go from heading an institution devoted to the idea of “We the People” to representing the United States at an institution devoted, as the first three words of the UN Charter begin, to the idea of “We the Peoples…”
As those of you who’ve visited the Constitution Center know, it’s a tribute to the amazing, world-changing political idea born in 1787. But it’s also a story about how we, imperfect human beings, have sometimes fallen short of those ideals. And when we have, there have been American heroes in every generation who’ve worked and sacrificed to push us back toward the ideal, to make our union “more perfect.”
That’s how I see the United Nations: a bold and powerful idea that appeals to the best in our optimistic American nature. At its best, the UN gives real meaning to the lofty vision of its founders. When it comes together to keep a brutal dictator from killing innocents in Libya, or imposes biting sanctions on regimes like Iran and North Korea. When it shepherds a new nation into existence in East Timor, or helps a duly elected president take office in Cote d’Ivoire. When it rebuilds a Haitian town after disaster strikes, and when it vaccinates a child in the Congo against polio.
But the UN is not always at its best. Too often, we’ve seen it and its member states at their worst. Political games and narrow interests stall urgent interventions. A sprawling bureaucracy resists change and generates too many examples of waste. Deeply flawed institutions such as the Human Rights Council can become symbols of what’s wrong with the entire system.
Our task is to try to close that gap between the UN’s founding ideals and its present reality. To reconcile the tension in an institution that the President rightly calls both “indispensible” and imperfect.” I look forward to working together with many of you to do just that, by promoting a meaningful reform agenda that advances economy, excellence, accountability, and integrity.
First, economy: the United Nations should face these tough economic times exactly as families and governments in America and around the world are: by doing more with less. So I’ll strongly support ongoing efforts to reverse the trend of unchecked growth in the UN budget, and approach negotiations with discipline and determination.
But economy will be the beginning, not the end, of our reform agenda. Because cutting budgets is not an end in itself--it’s a way of demonstrating that the UN understands that every dollar sent there represents the hard work of a taxpayer somewhere, and that every dollar wasted is, worse, a wasted opportunity to build a safer, freer, more prosperous world.
Second, we will pursue the highest standards of excellence at the UN. We’ll push for new approaches and innovations for delivering services. We’ll urge the UN to adopt best practices and find the best people. And we’ll support all efforts to develop a UN workforce where great performers are rewarded and inadequate ones are shown the door.
Third, we’ll promote accountability by equipping tough, independent oversight mechanisms with the tools they need. We’ll push for transparency and openness throughout the UN system, and hold managers accountable not for administering programs, but for getting results.
Finally, we will promote a standard of institutional behavior that enhances instead of erodes the UN’s credibility. Making “zero tolerance” for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers more than just a promise.
None of this will be easy; change in a large, complex organization never is. But it is vital to our national interest. A strong and effective UN is among the very best tools we have to share the burden of tackling the world’s most pressing challenges. And while none of this can be accomplished by us alone, there is no substitute for U.S. leadership – always the essential ingredient for making progress at the United Nations.
So I am honored and humbled to take up the task at hand: the hard work of day-by-day diplomacy, working with many of you and with other nations to persuasively, patiently, and most of all persistently steer the UN toward its better self.
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